A three-month pilot study in patients with high blood pressure shows that exercise that includes yoga is beneficial for cardiovascular health and well-being, and is more effective than stretching alone.

Exercise that included yoga reduced systolic blood pressure and resting heart rate and decreased cardiovascular risk over 10 years.

The study appeared in Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

Exercises that include yoga, more beneficial for health

Yoga is part of spiritual and physical exercise practices for millions of people around the world. As the practice of yoga becomes a widely accepted form of exercise, research on the subject is growing.

Yoga is a multifaceted lifestyle activity that can positively improve cardiovascular health and well-being. Physical exercises such as stretching and the physical components of yoga practices have many similarities, but also important differences.

“The purpose of this pilot study was to determine whether adding yoga to a regular exercise training regimen reduces cardiovascular risk,” explained Dr. Paul Poirier of the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute at Laval University and Faculty of Pharmacy , from Canada.

“Although there is some evidence that yoga interventions and exercises produce equal and/or superior cardiovascular outcomes, there is considerable variability in the types, components, frequency, session length, duration and intensity of yoga. We sought to apply a rigorous scientific approach to identify cardiovascular risk factors for which yoga is beneficial for patients and ways in which it could be applied in a medical setting such as a primary prevention program,” says Poirier.

What are the benefits of exercise that includes yoga?

The researchers recruited 60 people with previously diagnosed hypertension and metabolic syndrome to an exercise program. During the 3-month intervention regimen, participants were divided into two groups, who performed 15 minutes of either structured yoga or stretching, in addition to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise training 5 times per week, they write Medical Xpress.

Blood pressure, anthropometry, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), glucose and lipid levels, and Framingham and Reynolds risk scores were measured. At baseline, there was no difference between groups in age, sex, smoking rate, body mass index (BMI), resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, resting heart rate, and pulse pressure.

After 3 months, there was a decrease in resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, mean blood pressure and heart rate in both groups. However, systolic blood pressure was reduced by 10 mmHg in exercise that included yoga versus 4 mmHg in stretching-only exercise.

The yoga approach also reduced resting heart rate and 10-year cardiovascular risk, assessed using the Reynold’s risk score.

Patients are advised to incorporate yoga into their workouts

Although yoga has been shown to be beneficial for hypertensive patients, the exact mechanism underlying this positive effect is not fully understood. This pilot randomized trial shows that its benefits cannot be attributed to the physical component alone.

“This study provides evidence for an additional non-pharmacologic therapy option for cardiovascular risk reduction and blood pressure control in patients with hypertension within a primary prevention exercise program,” noted Dr. Poirier.

“As noted in several studies, we recommend that patients try to use exercise and stress relief to manage hypertension and cardiovascular disease in whatever form they find most appealing. Our study shows that structured yoga practices can be a healthier addition to aerobic exercise than simple stretching,” he concluded.

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